This article is from
Journal of Creation 33(1):93–101, April 2020

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Deep time in 18th century France—part 2: influence upon geology and evolution in 18th and 19th century Britain


The first part to this paper showed how, in 18th century France, the influence of non-scientific factors encouraged belief in deep time and a rejection of the Noahic deluge. There was a prior commitment, through Cartesian methodology, to remove the testimony of Scripture from science, and to prefer fallible human inductive inferences. There was also misrepresentation of the geological evidence where it supported Scripture; a growing preference for deep time and evolution, that partly stemmed from Eastern religions; and growing political agitation for revolution. This paper discusses, albeit briefly, how these influences from France shaped beliefs in Britain during the 18th century, specifically through the work of David Hume, Erasmus Darwin and James Hutton. Then it will be considered how these 18th century beliefs were re-shaped by Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin for 19th century consumption. The link to France was seemingly written out of the narrative, and the overt paganism was removed, while retaining the flawed naturalistic methodology that arbitrarily rejected biblical testimony. As part of this process a slow and silent attack was used against Christianity to avoid causing open offence, that is until after the publication of Darwin’s Origins.


As discussed in part 1, through the early 18th century in France a belief in deep time gradually developed amongst parts of elite French society, and this fed into the belief that an evolutionary process had shaped life on Earth.1 This development has been described by Lovejoy as the ‘temporalization’ of the Aristotelian concept of a Great Chain of Being.2 It became more pronounced in the middle and latter part of the 18th century. With the placement of this chain within the context of deep time, acceptance of a directly created and designed hierarchical order was undermined. Lovejoy suggests Buffon, Diderot, and Jean Baptiste Robinet3 were major contributors to this change in France, but evidence presented in part 1 shows it extended back to Fontenelle and De Maillet.

The thinking of French academics encroached into the work of British men such as David Hume, James Hutton, and Erasmus Darwin. Reed comments that in the late 18th century the leading naturalists and proponents of deep time were French, but following the disruption of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars the sphere of influence transferred to Britain.4 However, the debt to French academics was downplayed by Lyell and Darwin in 19th century Britain. This may have been partly for reasons of national prestige and pride, but there was also fear in the establishment of the revolution taking hold in Britain.5

The influence of Jesuits was briefly discussed in part 1. They were accused by well-regarded academics such as Pascal of the error of casuistry: effectively a system of ethics that allowed the setting aside of the law in some cases. From this, it was noted that some Jesuit-trained academics deceitfully undermined the Creation and Flood accounts, possibly as an attack on the Protestant Reformation, but full motivation remains unclear. There is insufficient space to discuss it further here. This paper will first focus on the French influence upon David Hume, Erasmus Darwin, and James Hutton in the 18th century, and then look at the influence of Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin in the 19th century.

David Hume

Figure 1. David Hume, 1711–1776. Historian and philosopher. Painting by Allan Ramsay, 1766.

David Hume (1711–1776) is not explicitly connected to the rise of belief in deep time and evolution in 18th century France, but the link is there (figure 1). He was central to the Scottish Enlightenment and wrote against miracles and the design argument.6 The well-connected Hume attended Edinburgh University at a young age, studying Roman authors such as Virgil and Cicero.7 In his early twenties he travelled to Paris and Reims, and later resided at the Jesuit Royal College of La Flèche for two years (1735–1737) conversing with the tutors, evidently as their guest. This was the same school that Descartes had attended. It was during this time that he may have come into contact with the Eastern beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism, for instance through Jesuit missionaries such as Ippolito Desideri and Charles Francois Dolu. Alison Gopnick has noted similarity between parts of Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, which was written during this period, and the beliefs of Buddhism.8 However, it has also been suggested that Hume might have gained knowledge of Eastern religions through the Dictionnaire Historique et Critique of Pierre Bayle (a Jesuit-educated French academic) and perhaps also through the influence of Sextus Empiricus’s (AD 160–210) Outlines of Pyrrhonism.9 Pyrrho is believed to have travelled to India with Alexander the Great and catalogued the beliefs of Eastern religions. His work is now mainly known through the text of Sextus Empiricus, which was widely read during the early modern period by Western academics.

So, Eastern religious beliefs may have become entwined into Hume’s thinking during his stay in France. The Buddhist influence is noted by Gopnick in Hume’s attempt to reject the self, thus going further than Descartes’ philosophy which had made the self the foundation of knowledge.8 Furthermore, in later years, through his posthumously published Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume referenced the beliefs of Hinduism as well as Greek paganism to challenge the design argument. This work is written in the form of a dialogue between three characters: Demea, Cleanthes, and Philo.

“The world, say I [Hume’s character Philo], resembles an animal; therefore it is an animal, therefore it arose from generation. … Hesiod, and all the ancient mythologists were so struck with this analogy, that they universally explained the origin of nature from an animal birth and copulation. Plato too, so far as he is intelligible, seems to have adopted some such notion in his TIMAEUS.
“The Brahmins assert that the world arose from an infinite spider, who spun this whole complicated mass from its bowels, and annihilates afterwards the whole part of it, by absorbing it again, and resolving it into its own essence.”10

Hume’s allusion here to Hindu beliefs suggests he believed in changes over millions or billions of years, or even to an eternal cyclical cosmology. However, scholars still debate Hume’s actual position in the Dialogues, and generally see him as skeptical of religion and the design argument in general. But it is notable that Erasmus Darwin, a close acquaintance of Hume, thought the position outlined in part VII of the Dialogues (partially quoted above) was Hume’s real belief. If so, Hume was arguing for an esoteric power of generation. Erasmus Darwin comments:

“The late Mr. David Hume, in his posthumous works, [Dialogues] places the powers of generation much above those of our boasted reason; and adds, that reason can only make a machine, as a clock or a ship, but the power of generation makes the maker of the machine, and probably from having observed, that the greatest part of the earth has been formed out of organic recrements … he concludes that the world itself might have been generated, rather than created; that is, it might have been gradually produced from very small beginnings, increasing by the activity of its inherent principles, rather than by a sudden evolution of the whole by the Almighty fiat.”11

Hume returned to Paris as the secretary to the British Embassy between 1763 and 1765, and then accompanied the exiled French–Swiss political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) back to England, where Rousseau later became acquainted with Erasmus Darwin.12 Rousseau was also a close friend of the atheist Diderot and wrote for his Encyclopédie, and his writing was also an influence upon French revolutionary Jacobins such as Robespierre.

Erasmus Darwin

Figure 2. Erasmus Darwin, about 1793. Oil painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, located in Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802; figure 2) expressed his belief in deep time extending over millions of years, and a form of evolution, in his written works: for instance, The Temple of Nature, The Botanic Garden, and Zoonomia. Mention of millions of years in Erasmus Darwin’s works appears in the Philosophical Notes to The Botanic Garden (1791). He commented at some length on the changing nature of the earth’s rock layers and formations: “extensive beds of clay, marl, sand-stone, coal, and iron, which were probably for many millions of years the only parts of our continent and islands, which were then elevated above the level of the sea”.13

He was also an open advocate of the pagan beliefs of ancient Greece and Rome, was a leading Freemason, and used Rosicrucian imagery.14 In Zoonomia, first published in 1794, he spoke of the “magnificent idea of the infinite power of THE GREAT ARCHITECT! THE CAUSE OF CAUSES!”,15 and asked whether it would

“… be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality …”.16

Such statements in his works relating to millions of ages and the deity of freemasonry seem to echo Voltaire’s earlier reference to the Great Architect, and millions of years of change: “Revolutions of thousands of millions of years are infinitely less in the light of the Great Architect of Nature, than to us that of a wheel which compleats [sic] its round in the twinkling of an eye.”17

Image: The British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0fig-3
Figure 3. Erasmus Darwin’s coat of arms

In Hume and Erasmus Darwin’s thinking there was evidently an understanding regarding evolution that stemmed from ancient paganism. Darwin’s family motto was E Conchis Omnia, meaning “everything from shells”, and he used the image of a scallop shell on the family crest, for a time painted on his carriage (figure 3).18 In Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the goddess of love (the Roman Venus), was often depicted riding the ocean upon a scallop shell (and also in Renaissance art—figure 4). While in Hesiod’s Theogony, which Hume referenced in Dialogues, Cronos (sometimes considered synonymous with Chronos, the god of time) castrated his father Uranus, the god of the sky, and threw the members into the sea. After a long period of time a foam formed around them and within grew the beautiful goddess Aphrodite, who eventually floated to Cyprus:

“And so soon as he had cut off the members with flint and cast them from the land into the surging sea, they were swept away over the main a long time: and a white foam spread around them from the immortal flesh, and in it there grew a maiden. First she drew near holy Cythera, and from there, afterwards, she came to sea-girt Cyprus, and came forth an awful and lovely goddess.”19

In The Temple of Nature, Erasmus Darwin spoke of the goddess Venus in terms of an allegory for evolution: “Amazed the Sea’s prolific depths I view, And VENUS rising from the waves in YOU! … . Her beaux and beauties, butterflies and worms, Rise from aquatic to aerial forms.” In the footnote there is the comment: “Venus seems to have represented the beauty of organic Nature rising from the sea … .”20 So, it may be seen that Erasmus Darwin read Venus/Aphrodite as an allegory for evolution occurring as a result of generating powers, and a similar view may have been held by Hume. These generating powers were deep time, sexual desire, and chaotic forces (effectively natural selection, but guided by an impersonal esoteric force in nature).21 The beautiful goddess was said to have risen out of the foam, and ridden the chaotic waves over extended periods of time. Charles Darwin (1809–1882) later developed the ideas in Zoonomia along more Epicurean lines, removing the overt paganism of his grandfather. But there was a commitment to long ages before any real scientific justification was available, and this passed primarily through earlier French sources. Charles Darwin seems to have borrowed heavily from Zoonomia.22

As well as influence from Hume and Voltaire, Erasmus Darwin was evidently influenced by various geological theories that came out of France in the preceding decades, in the first instance through the work of Buffon. Copies of Buffon’s works were in Erasmus Darwin’s possession,23 and he quoted him several times in his writing; for instance, in The Botanic Garden he discussed Buffon’s theory of the origin of the solar system.24 However, Buffon was reticent to speak publicly of his belief in long ages beyond tens of thousands of years. On the other hand, Diderot was perhaps one of the first French authors to speak openly (in the middle of the 18th century) of evolutionary change occurring over millions of years, and blended this with his political beliefs. Diderot was also an influence upon Erasmus Darwin’s thinking, as Margaret Jourdain for instance has suggested.25 In 1754, in Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature, Diderot wrote:

“… might not the philosopher, left to his own thoughts [without religious instruction], suspect that animality had its elements from all eternity mixed up and dispersed in the mass of matter; that these elements happen to encounter one another … [and] that millions of years passed between each of these stages …?”26
Figure 4. Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1484–1485. Erasmus Darwin later saw the birth and beauty of Venus as an allegory for evolution.

The other link to France in Erasmus Darwin’s thinking, albeit indirectly, was through James Hutton. Erasmus Darwin expressed some qualified support to Hutton’s scientific work, calling it ‘ingenious’. He understood that Hutton’s Theory of the Earth advocated an eternal universe: “according to the ingenious theory of Dr Hutton, who says new continents are now forming at the bottom of the sea to rise in their turn, and that thus the terraqueous globe has been, and will be, eternal?”27 Erasmus Darwin also discussed the idea of a receding ocean, as well as the emerging land mass: “by these means the solid part of the terraqueous globe has perpetually been in an increasing state, and the waters perpetually in a decreasing one”.28

With the onset of revolution in France, those closely associated with the French thinkers in Britain were suddenly under suspicion. Some were arrested and imprisoned, although Erasmus Darwin only felt the force of state-sanctioned mockery through the short-lived Anti-Jacobin publication of 1797–1798, founded by Tory Government Minister George Canning.

James Hutton

Figure 5. James Hutton, 1726–1797. Geologist, by Henry Raeburn, 1776.

James Hutton (1726–1797) was well connected to the thinking of 18th century French naturalists, and he acknowledges some of it in his writing (figure 5). He was present in Paris at the Collège de Sorbonne to pursue his medical studies in the year that De Maillet’s work was published (1748). His Parisian studies in medicine included chemistry and anatomy, and Dean suggests that he may have attended the lectures of Guillaume-François Rouelle, that also covered geology. Rouelle was the foremost authority on chemistry in Paris at the time, having gained the position of démonstrateur at the prestigious Jardin du Roi (later Jardin des Plantes) in 1743, this through the recommendation of Buffon.29 The Jardin du Roi was established in part to collect and study herbs for medicinal purposes, but branched out to include research into chemical compounds, which led to studies in geological strata. As well as research, Rouelle’s role as démonstrateur included practical and colourful demonstrations of chemistry, and these were popular and well attended by Parisian students. Geikie relates the revelation of Rouelle’s student Nicholas Desmarest (1725–1815) who attended his mentor’s classes. From this position Rouelle would inform the students of the systematic nature of the fossil record, wherein fossil shells were often found organised in the strata. His opinion was that such evidence could not have been laid down by a violent deluge such as Noah’s Flood, echoing the earlier opinion of Fontenelle and Buffon.30 By spending a couple of years in Europe, including time at college in Paris, Hutton had ample opportunity to acquaint himself with the latest views of the fossil record amongst French academics.

It is notable that Desmarest was a student of Rouelle in Paris around the period 1746 to 1748, and may have been acquainted with Hutton. Desmarest later studied the basalt formations in the Auvergne region of France in 1763 and compared them to the Giant’s Causeway of Ireland. But although he recognised the influence of volcanism in shaping the landform he was also strongly influenced by Rouelle’s flood theory for the formation of the sedimentary layers identified in France. Therefore, he considered that the power of volcanism to shape landforms was limited. Desmarest’s studies also led to consideration of the erosive power of water upon the valleys of Auvergne over extended periods of time, and he speculated on rate uniformity. His research was published in several papers between 1765 and 1775.31

The geologists Hutton referenced in his works of 1788 and 1795 were primarily French, or French-speaking, and he quoted them at some length in their native language.32 This included Jean-André Deluc, and the Chevalier Déodat de Dolomieu who observed different forms of volcanic lava around Etna and the Lipari Islands (although he did not attempt to form it into a general theory). The other notable reference was to the French-Swiss Horace-Bénédict de Saussure and his work Voyage dans les Alpes. Saussure referenced the geology of the Alps in order to develop a general theory of the earth and accepted successive catastrophes over extended periods of time, primarily involving the action of water.33 While in Paris, Saussure had opportunity to discuss geology with Buffon and Desmarest.34

The influence of the French geologists was clearly evident in Hutton’s thinking. But unlike their belief that an erosive ocean had shaped the earth’s surface, Hutton included a general restoring force in his theory. This was seen in terms of a machine and as a ‘reproductive operation’ from pressure and volcanic heat. Internal forces then were considered necessary to lift the earth’s surface above sea level to counter the erosional work of water upon the landforms. In this way he attempted to develop his own general theory of the earth.35 Rudwick observes that Hutton was more of a geo-theorist than some of the French academics, and only after presenting his theory did Hutton attempt to justify it from observations.36 Hutton’s work differed somewhat from Buffon’s ideas even though both involved the action of heat and water.37 However, Hutton’s work was not without criticism. His extension of the power of heat to sedimentary rock formation such as limestone was widely questioned, not least because it was known through the industrial use of limekilns that excessive heat made limestone sufficiently brittle to form it into cement.38

Like the French deists, Hutton saw in nature the work of an intelligent agent, and also believed that geological formations were evidence of the great age of the earth. While allowing that Moses may have recorded the origin of mankind in his 1788 paper, he thought the fossil record provided evidence of a much greater history: “We find in natural history monuments which prove that those animals had long existed.”39 And from the study of natural processes he thought it possible to “procure a measure for the computation of a period of time extremely remote, though far from being precisely ascertained”.39 Playfair, Hutton’s interpreter, used Buffon’s expression of an abyss of time to describe the length of time believed necessary for geological change to occur.40 However, as Rudwick documents, it was generally recognised that Hutton was advocating an eternity of time in which the earth’s surface might be changed.41 But at the same time, he was skeptical of calculating uniform rates because he thought the processes were acting too slowly. Without human written documentation over “millions … of the races of men”, reliance may only be placed upon inductive reasoning and scientific laws that are applied to the evidence.42 Hutton compared the problem with an attempt to measure distant objects in space without a parallax.43

Hutton’s work was later interpreted by Playfair; the excuse being to make Hutton’s verbose work, which contained pages of notes in French, more readable. However, Rudwick suggests that Playfair effectively misrepresented Hutton’s work by removing it from its deistic framework and side-lining the teleology, the purpose being to present it in a way that 19th century natural scientists could accept.44

Figure 6. Portrait of Charles Lyell, date unknown, by George J. Stodart

Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin

Charles Lyell (1797–1875) further promoted and extended the work of James Hutton, but downplayed the French connection (figure 6). Gould comments that Lyell was rewriting geological history, and prejudice meant that the influence of the French geologists was hidden in order to establish a British hero. Furthermore, the reconstructed historical narrative that Lyell wanted to portray was that Hutton’s gradual processes were accepted on the basis of empirical evidence against the untested theories of the hard-fighting catastrophists. Gould suggests this was “one of the most flagrant mischaracterizations ever perpetrated by the heroic tradition in the history of science”.45

Lyell was also evidently seeking to “free the science [of geology] from Moses”46 but was doing so in a disguised manner. As Grinnell has suggested, there was a subtle, political attack on the Anglican establishment and the monarchical theory of government by a group of liberal academics and scientists. This liberal cause acted in a similar fashion to the one enacted in France against the Royal establishment, but in a more subtle manner to avoid the charge of sedition and revolution.47 In private correspondence Lyell suggested that if triumphalism could be avoided, and charm and liberal compliments were used, it would be possible to get the “bishops and enlightened saints” to “join us in despising both the ancient and modern physico-theologians”46 (i.e. those who were arguing that the geological evidence confirmed the Bible’s account of Noah’s Flood).48 And yet his wider aims were hidden from view for a period of several decades.

“If I have said more than some will like, yet I give you my word that full half of my history and comments was cut out, and even many facts; because either I, or Stokes, or Broderip, felt that it was anticipating twenty or thirty years of the march of honest feeling to declare it undisguisedly. … P.S. … I conceived the idea five or six years ago that if ever the mosaic geology could be set down without giving offence, it would be in an historic sketch.”46

Evidence from private correspondence shows that Lyell included Charles Darwin (figure 7) in the deceitful plan of action to undermine biblical faith in Britain. While in early years Lyell did not openly accept evolution, he encouraged Darwin to write his work over a couple of decades and was only one of a few who knew of Darwin’s plans initially. In a letter in 1836, the young Darwin seemed flattered that “Lyell entered in the most good natured manner, and almost without being asked, into my plans.”49 Lyell helped to direct the young Darwin’s plans, and they put them into practice through a slow and silent attack upon Christianity, as Voltaire and other revolutionaries had done more forcefully in 18th century France. Like Voltaire, Lyell, and perhaps Darwin, were Unitarian deists, and hostile to the authority of the Anglican establishment in matters of science as well as faith. They wished to remove this influence from science. Darwin confesses his part in the plan in private correspondence in 1873:

“Lyell is most firmly convinced that he has shaken the faith in the Deluge … far more efficiently by never having said a word against the Bible, than if he had acted otherwise. P.S. … . I have lately read Morley’s Life of Voltaire & he insists strongly that direct attacks on Christianity (even when written with the wonderful force & vigour of Voltaire) produce little permanent effect: real good seems only to follow from slow & silent side attacks.”50

In Morley’s biography of Voltaire, the French academic is praised for quick wit, intelligence and charm, but notes that his followers were careful in what they said for the purpose of promoting heterodox ideas slowly in a rather devious manner. “The strain that society has undergone since Voltaire’s day has taught men to qualify their propositions. It has forced them to follow truth slowly along paths steep and devious.”51 Lyell was also clearly aware of the deceit in Voltaire’s work, and observed that he was acting with “bad faith” in order to “inculcate scepticism” and “strengthen prejudices” towards Christianity.52 So, there is documented evidence that Lyell and Darwin were working in secret over many years to undermine and remove the scriptural account of creation from science (and incidentally, like Voltaire, it is notable that Lyell was also willing to write about the beliefs of the ‘Hindoos’ and ancient Egyptians with more sympathy than towards the Old Testament).53

Lyell’s overconfidence also ran into Hume’s problem of induction. It was openly stated in the subtitle of his Principles of Geology as An attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface by reference to causes now in operation. Hume had earlier recognized that “all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past”.54 And as Hutton knew, all attempts at measuring the age of geological processes are like measuring distance in space without a parallax.55 But Lyell ignored this, as did Darwin in later years. In the first edition of Origins, Darwin unwisely attempted to make a rough estimation for the age of the Weald in Southern England. He suggested that it would have taken 100 to 300 million years for erosion by river flow to denude the valley, although this estimate was later withdrawn.56 Samuel Wilberforce criticized the estimation on the basis that Darwin was trying to hold together two mutually exclusive arguments: like Lyell, Darwin argued for the “extreme imperfection of the geological record” to account for missing evidence when it suited his cause, and yet at the same time was attempting to apply uniformity of rate over hundreds of millions of years.57

Darwin’s List

Figure 7. Photograph of Charles Darwin, 1855, by Maull and Polyblank—for Literary and Scientific Portrait Club

After Darwin’s first edition of Origin of Species was published, he came under pressure to give credit to predecessors. For instance criticism came from the Rev. Baden Powell that there was insufficient acknowledgement given to previous researchers. Darwin felt under obligation to comply, and Rebecca Stott has highlighted the growing list of evolutionists that Darwin put together.58 He included ‘Demaillet’ in the first list of 19 authors, alongside Aristotle, Buffon, Lamarck, and Geoffrey Saint Hilaire from 18th and early 19th century France. This appeared in the Preface of the first American edition of Origins (1860).59 He was also keen to show that his work was not overly influenced by French revolutionaries and the list grew to include others from Britain and Europe, including his grandfather. However, in 1860 Richard Owen criticized Darwin by comparing his ‘imaginative temperament’ to that of De Maillet (who had suggested that human beings may have evolved from mermen and mermaids).60 The Preface reference to De Maillet was then removed and did not appear in subsequent English editions of Origins. As far as Darwin noted Buffon’s prior claim to evolution, it was not given in very convincing, nor complete terms:

“… the first author who in modern times has treated it in a scientific spirit was Buffon. But as his opinions fluctuated greatly at different periods, and as he does not enter on the causes or means of the transformation of species, I need not here enter on details.”61

Charles Darwin also noted that his grandfather’s work seems to have resembled the later work of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck: “It is curious how largely my grandfather, Dr Erasmus Darwin, anticipated views and erroneous grounds of opinion of Lamarck in his ‘Zoonomia’.”62 Lamarck was trained at a Jesuit college in Amiens, and later in 1788 gained position at the Jardin des Plantes (formerly Jardin du Roi) with the support of Buffon. His flawed theory of evolution was based upon the hereditary transmission of developed characteristics. This involved a force of nature that could direct the process towards greater complexity. As noted above, Erasmus Darwin spoke of an esoteric ‘power of generation’ at work in nature and gave reference to part VII of Hume’s Dialogues (in which Hume referenced the Brahmins and Hesiod’s Theogony).


It is evident that belief in deep time and evolution in Britain grew out of 18th century France. Reference to millions of years or ages of change first appeared in France around 1748–1754 with the work of De Maillet and Diderot, before appearing in James Hutton and Erasmus Darwin’s work. Deep time had earlier been advocated in Fontenelle’s fictional and scientific works from the late 17th century. Although some of the French writers, for instance De Maillet, had an interest in Hinduism in seeking to justify millions of years of change, the paganism became more overt in the writings of Erasmus Darwin and David Hume. The works of ancient Greece—of Hesiod, Plato, Aristotle and Pyhrro—were easily available to Enlightenment thinkers. James Hutton’s geological theory was also clearly influenced by a network of mainly French researchers, with some connection to Buffon and the Jardin des Plantes. This closely connects Hutton to the French camp, but the French link was played down by Playfair and Lyell.

Lyell also planned a secretive campaign to undermine the Anglican establishment in Britain, entraining the young Charles Darwin into his cause. The subterfuge of Voltaire seems to have offered a blueprint for both of them. Lyell and Darwin even admitted to a deceitful campaign against Christianity in private correspondence, and this has previously been discussed by creation authors.63 It is also notable that attempts at measuring the age of the earth in terms of millions or billions of years run into the problem of induction. It must be assumed, without proper foundation, that present geological processes and observed rates are applicable through history. This problem becomes even more pointed when Darwin also argued that the record is extremely imperfect. This problem remains unresolved, although widely ignored by modern secular science.

There is insufficient space to discuss the influence of Jesuit education, but there does seem to be evidence that Christian belief was blended with the Eastern beliefs of deep time and evolution in at least some Jesuit thinking. It later appeared for instance in the writing of the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955). He has become an icon for 20th century theistic evolutionists, although his beliefs were criticized by C.S. Lewis who described them as “evolution run mad” and “uncomfortably like Pantheism”.64 It may be seen however, that the rise of belief in deep time and evolution arose during the 18th century, first in France then in Britain, as a result of the influence of ancient Greece and Eastern religions.

References and notes

  1. Sibley, A., Deep time in 18th century France—part 1: a developing belief, J. Creation 33(1):85–92, 2019. Return to text.
  2. Lovejoy, A.O., The Great Chain of Being, Cambridge, MA, 1936. Harrison, J., Erasmus Darwin’s view of evolution, J. History of Ideas 32(2):247–264, April–June 1971. Return to text.
  3. Lovejoy, ref. 2. Robinet (1735–1820) was a French naturalist who wrote De La Nature in five volumes from 1761–1768. Return to text.
  4. Reed, J., St Hutton’s hagiography, J. Creation 22(2):121–127, 2008. Return to text.
  5. Some of the French influence has also been described by Malcolm Bowden and Henry Morris: one notable connection was the deist Benjamin Franklin who travelled in France and Britain and corresponded with figures such as Voltaire and Erasmus Darwin. Bowden, M., The Rise of the Evolutionary Fraud, Sovereign Publ., Bromley, UK, pp. 100–110, 1982. Bowden quotes Henry Morris as one source who suggested a link between revolution in France and the rise of evolution in Britain, Morris, H., The Troubled Waters of Evolution, Creation Life Publ., San Diego, CA, 1980. Return to text.
  6. His clan, more usually spelt Home, were well connected in British society, historically supporting the Catholic Stuart claim to the throne (although the eighth Earl Home changed sides during the second Jacobite Rebellion of 1745). Return to text.
  7. Hume, D., My own life; in: Lynch, J. (Ed.), The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Cæsar to the Revolution in 1688, vol. 1, via Rutgers University, London, pp. 1–21, 1778. Return to text.
  8. Gopnick, A., Could David Hume have known about Buddhism? Charles Francois Dolu, the Royal College of La Flèche, and the Global Jesuit Intellectual Network, Hume Studies 35(1–2):5–28, 2009. Return to text.
  9. Haverschmidt, D., The Mind as a Kind of Theatre: A critical study of Buddhist influence in David Hume’s treatise of human nature, Master thesis in Global and Colonial History, Leiden University, Holland, 19 July 2017. Return to text.
  10. Hume, D., Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 2nd edn, London, pp.141–142, 1779. Return to text.
  11. Darwin, E., Zoonomia: Or the laws of organic life, vol. 1, Printed for J. Johnson, St Pauls Church Yard, London, p. 509, 1794. Return to text.
  12. Rousseau stayed at Wootton Hall in Staffordshire for a while, while Erasmus Darwin was in Lichfield, about 60 km south. Hele King, D., Erasmus Darwin, Charles Scribner & Sons, New York, p. 20, 1963. Return to text.
  13. Darwin, E., The Botanic Garden, a Poem in Two Parts, with Philosophical Notes, J. Johnston, London, p. 51, note xx, 1791. Return to text.
  14. Denslow, W.R., 10,000 Famous Freemasons, Missouri Lodge of Research, MO, 1957–1961. The Eye (pseudonym), Erasmus Darwin Centre opens in Lichfield, Freemasonry Today, issue 9, Summer 1999. He was a member of St David’s Masonic Lodge no. 36 in Edinburgh in 1754, and was also a member of Canongate Kilwinning Masonic Lodge no. 2. Return to text.
  15. Darwin, E., ref. 11, p. 509. Return to text.
  16. Darwin, E., ref. 11, p. 505. Return to text.
  17. Voltaire (Arouet, F.M.), Dissertation on the changes that have happened in our globe, and on the petrifications which are alleged as proofs thereof, written originally in Italian, and sent by the author to the Academy of Bologna, and since translated by him into French; in: Smollett, T. et al. (trans.), The Works of M. de. Voltaire, vol. 18, London, pp. 243–256, 1762. Return to text.
  18. King-Hele, D., The furtive evolutionist, New Scientist 2390:48–49, 12 April 2003; Grigg, R., Darwinism: it was all in the family,, accessed 17 November 2018. Return to text.
  19. Hesiod, The Homeric hymns and Homerica, Theogony, transl. by Evelyn-White, H.G., Theogony, William Heinemann Ltd, London, lines 185–195, 1914. Return to text.
  20. Darwin, E., The Temple of Nature, or the Origin of Society: A poem, with philosophical notes, J. Johnson, London, 1803. Canto I, V, lines 383–4, fn 34: “And in lines 295-312: ‘ORGANIC LIFE beneath the shoreless waves, Was born and nurs’d in Ocean’s pearly caves: First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass, Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass; These, as successive generations bloom, New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume; Whence countless groups of vegetation spring, And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing’.” (Incidentally, the worship of Venus/Aphrodite may stem from the Phoenician Astarte and Semitic Ishtar). Return to text.
  21. Darwin, E., ref. 20, canto I, IV, lines 227–234 “Ere Time began, from flaming Chaos hurl’d, Rose the bright spheres, which form the circling world; Earths from each sun with quick explosions burst, And second planets issued from the first. Then, whilst the sea at their coeval birth, Surge over surge, involv’d the shoreless earth; Nurs’d by warm sun-beams in primeval caves, Organic Life began beneath the waves.” Return to text.
  22. Bergman, J., Did Darwin plagiarise his evolution theory? J. Creation 16(3):58–63, 2002; From King-Hele, D., Erasmus Darwin, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, pp. 81–89, 1963. Return to text.
  23. Barnard, A., Staffordshire’s involvement with Genesis and evolution: keeping it in the family. A talk first given to the History of Veterinary Medicine Group at Biddulph Gardens (13–05–09), developed for Biddulph Gardens’ Darwin Bi-Centenary Talk (19–06–09), and then in Birmingham (01–12–09), Erasmus Darwin House, Lichfield,, accessed November 2018. Return to text.
  24. Darwin, E., ref. 13, note XV, p. 30. Return to text.
  25. Jourdain, M., Diderot’s Early Philosophical Works, (trans. and ed. by Jourdain. M), Introduction, The Open Court Publ. Co., Chicago & London, p. 1, 1916. Return to text.
  26. Diderot, D., Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature: And other philosophical works, (trans. & ed. by Adams, D.), Clinamen Press Ltd, Manchester, 2000; Diderot, D., Pensees sur L’Interpreation de la Nature, p. 92, 1754 (that millions of years passed between each of these stages—qu’il s’est écoulé des millions d’années entre chacun de ces développments). Return to text.
  27. Darwin, E., ref. 13, note XXIV, p. 65. Return to text.
  28. Darwin, E., ref. 13, note XVI, p. 32. Return to text.
  29. Dean, D.R., James Hutton and the History of Geology, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, pp 1–5, 1992. Return to text.
  30. Geikie, A., The Founders of Geology, Dover Publ., New York, p. 342, 1962 (from 2nd edn, 1905). Return to text.
  31. Taylor, K.L., Desmarest, Nicolas, A Dictionary of Earth Sciences, Oxford University Press, 1999,, 28 September 2018. Return to text.
  32. Hutton, J., Theory of the Earth: or an investigation of the laws observable in the composition, dissolution, and restoration of land upon the globe, Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol. I, part II, pp. 209–304, 1788 (from addresses given in 1785); Hutton, J., Theory of the Earth: With proofs and illustrations, Edinburgh, 1795. Return to text.
  33. Hutton, ref. 32, pp. 220 (Saussure), pp. 279–280 (Dolomieu), and, vol. 1, chap. 5 (De Luc). Return to text.
  34. A Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, “Saussure, Horace Bénédict De.”,, Charles Scribner & Sons, 2008, accessed 10 November 2018. Return to text.
  35. Hutton, ref. 32, p. 216. Return to text.
  36. Rudwick, M.J.S., Bursting the Limits of Time: The reconstruction of geohistory in the age of revolution, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, p. 158–164, 2005. Return to text.
  37. Playfair, J., Illustrations of the Huttonian theory of the earth; in: The Works of John Playfair Esq., vol. 1, A Constable & Co. Edinburgh, and Hurst, Robinson, 7 Co. London, pp. 472–473, 1822. Return to text.
  38. Rudwick, ref. 36, p. 172. Return to text.
  39. Hutton, ref 32, p. 217. Return to text.
  40. Playfair, J., Biographical account of the later Dr James Hutton, F.R.S. Edinburgh [1803], Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 5(3):39–99, 71–73, 1805. Return to text.
  41. Rudwick, ref. 36, p. 171. Return to text.
  42. Hutton, J., ref 32, Theory of the Earth, vol. 1, chap. V: “But how shall we acquire the knowledge of a system calculated for millions, not of years only, nor of the ages of man, but of the races of men, and the successions of empires? … we have nothing but the laws of nature, established in the science of man by his inductive reasoning.” Return to text.
  43. Rudwick, ref. 36, p. 169, from Hutton, ref, 32, p. 215, 298–299. Return to text.
  44. Rudwick, ref. 36, p. 161 (no. 46). See also Reed, ref. 5. Return to text.
  45. Gould, S.J., Time’s Arrow Time’s Cycle: Myth and metaphor is the discovery of geological time, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 66–67, 1997. Return to text.
  46. Lyell, C., Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, John Murray, London, pp. 268–271, 1881 (letter to George Poulett Scrope, 14 June 1830). Return to text.
  47. Grinnell, G., A probe into the origin of the 1832 Gestalt shift in geology, Kronos: A J. Interdisciplinary Synthesis 1(4): 68–76, Winter 1976. Return to text.
  48. See: Mortenson, T., The Church’s Catastrophic Mistake on Geology—Before Darwin, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2004. Return to text.
  49. Keynes, R., Fossils, Finches and Fuegians: Charles Darwin’s adventures and discoveries on the Beagle 1832–1836, Harper Collins, London, p. 379, 2002 (letter to J.S. Henslow, 30–31 October 1836). Return to text.
  50. Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 9105 (letter to his son George, 21 & 22 Oct 1873),, accessed 30 July 2018. Return to text.
  51. Morley, J., The Works of Voltaire: A contemporary version. A critique and biography by John Morley, notes by Smollett, T., trans. Fleming, W.F., E.R. DuMont, New York, vol. 11, p. 112, 1901. Return to text.
  52. Lyell, C., Principles of Geology, 9th edn, book 1, chap. 4, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia, pp. 54–55, 1854. (This passage is also in early editions from 1834.) Return to text.
  53. Lyell, C., ref. 46, book 1, chap. 2, pp. 5–12. Return to text.
  54. Hume, D., An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hackett Publ Co., Indianapolis, IN, 1993; chapter on Cause and Effect, part II, 1772. Return to text.
  55. See Hutton, ref. 32, p. 215, 298–299. Return to text.
  56. Darwin, C., On the Origin of Species, 1st edn, Murray, London, pp. 282–287, 1859: “At this rate, on the above data, the denudation of the Weald must have required 306,662,400 years, or say 300 million years. But perhaps it would be safer to allow two or three inches per century, and this would reduce the number of years to 150 or 100 million years.” The Weald has been discussed by Oard, M.J. and Matthews, J.D., Erosion of the Weald, Southeast England—part I: uniformitarian mysteries, CRSQ 51(3):165–176, 2015; Matthews, J.D. and Oard, M.J., Erosion of the Weald, Southeast England—part II: a Flood explanation of the mystery and its implications, CRSQ 52(1):22–33, 2015. Return to text.
  57. Wilberforce, S., Review of Origin of Species, Quarterly Review 225–264, 1860. Darwin’s quote is ref. 60, p. 280. Return to text.
  58. Stott, R., Darwin’s Ghosts: In search of the first evolutionists, Bloomsbury Publ., London, pp. 1–17, 2012. Return to text.
  59. Darwin, C., On the Origin of Species, D. Appleton, New York, Preface, 1860. Return to text.
  60. Owen, R., Darwin on the Origin of Species, Edinburgh Review 3:487–532, 1860. “… individuals of more imaginative temperament; such as Demaillet in the last century, Lamarck in the first half the present, Darwin in the second half.” Return to text.
  61. Darwin, C., On the Origin of Species, 4th edn, Murray, London, p. XIII, 1866. Return to text.
  62. Darwin, C, The Origin of Species, 3rd edn, Murray, London, pp. XIV, 1872. The reference Darwin gives for Zoonomia (vol. I., pp. 500–510, 1794). Return to text.
  63. For instance, Bergman, ref. 22, and Mortenson, ref. 48, and Catchpoole, D. and Walker, T., Charles Lyell’s hidden agenda—to free science ‘from Moses’,, 19 August 2009. Return to text.
  64. Frengren, G.B. and Numbers, R.L., C.S. Lewis on Creation and Evolution: the Acworth letters, 1944-1960, PSCF 48:28–33, March 1996 (Lewis’s letter to Ackworth of 5th March 1960). Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Adrian S.
I second Leopold H's comment about looking deeper into the connection between the Jesuit education and evolutionary thinking of some of these persons. Seems that there is more there than what is seen on the surface.
Leopold H.
I realise it's outside the scope of this article, but I wish you'd go further on the Jesuit involvement, as you mentioned briefly. Since Jesuits established educational institutions throughout the world, which became highly renowned and attended by important people over many centuries up until today, it would be interesting to analyse their educational system and the principles and philosophy it is/was based on and how this correlates with the growth of evolutionary and big bang ideology among the educated.
Stephen N.
This is an excellent article in exposing the deceit involved in shaping the theory of evolution and the promotion of the idea of "deep time". Clearly, there was influence from pagan religions. There was a deliberate attempt to undermine authentic Christianity.

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